george hancock stefanThis summer I had more opportunities to fly locally and internationally than I have had in previous years. Three times I flew to Europe, two times within the States, and one time my flight was cancelled. In the same way that I have had the opportunity and the privilege to fly, so did millions of other people throughout the world. These days, the flights are often so full that airlines ask for volunteers to take another flight. These volunteer fliers are given an overnight stay if needed and another ticket. There are also many airlines and the competition can be fierce at times.

Among the great opportunities while flying is the opportunity to bring your children along. On one flight from JFK to Munich, in the row in front of me there were 10 seats. In these 10 seats there were 5 children below the age of two. When I sat down and I saw the number of kids, I started to laugh. The good Lord seems to make these funny arrangements for his great purposes, sometimes unbeknownst to us. I made my reservation for the aisle seat and that was OK but having the five kids in front of me was an unplanned thing! They were fussing before we took off and then when we took off, all of them started to cry. The crying continued non-stop through the 7 hour flight by at least one of the kids. I do not know if the parents do not know how to pacify the kids, if the kids are colicky, or if this age is too early for those children to travel.

As someone who is a parent with four children and now has two grandchildren, I have been reflecting a lot on these conditions. I came to the personal conclusion that children younger than five rarely enjoy traveling. They have earaches at takeoff and landing and long international flights are almost unbearable. As cute as my children have been, I was aware that not everyone was as enamored with them as I was. Not everyone is willing to have a conversation with them or to play with them when they happened to sit next to us and my children intruded in the space of the passenger in the next seat.

Kids are not the only ones traveling. One time I sat next to a passenger with a huge meowing cat held on her lap. I was glad that I was the passenger and not my wife who is allergic to anything that has fur. As long as it fits in a portable enclosure and fits under the seat during the flight, most of the airlines are willing to allow their customers to do this.

At the same time, the airlines are doing some interesting things. A number of years ago when they built the new Yankee Stadium, they had to make bigger seats because the size of the average American has increased. That information has clearly not reached the airlines, which are making their seats for models and not for the average American. I am not a svelte person and a number of times I wondered what would happen when people came into the row who were heftier than me and whose elbows I had in my face for the entire flight.

The other thing that I have experienced this summer is what I gently call legal piracy. One day, due to a passport technicality, I missed one leg of my travel.  I was able to make a different connection and get on the second leg of my journey. The airline informed me that since I did not purchase the ticket directly through the airline, and since I had lost one leg of my travel, they were legally right to cancel my departing and returning flights. Therefore, I had to buy two tickets.

This is a great time to travel globally. But we will have to see if the airlines’ plans to reap greater profits can mingle with the sensitivities of the people who are traveling. My latest trip was a close to 9 hour flight from Vienna. As the plane started to land, I think we had at least 20 kids starting to cry. They continued to do this until we landed.  However, we could not get to the gate for another 25 minutes. The crying continued and there were fried nerves all over. People were standing up when they were not supposed to stand, and they wanted to go to the bathrooms. The attendants had to plead with the passengers to sit down and there have been some hostile answers from parents and other people who had had enough.

These are opportune times for all of us, but it is also a time when we have to make accommodations for other passengers like us who enjoy flying as much as we do.